Great Harwood Legends
Matt Derbyshire - Part 1 (Jump to Part 2)
Matt joined the Robins in 2002 from Darwen after the Salmoners scrapped their reserve/youth team in order to accommodate their ladies team. Harwood manager John Hughes grasped the opportunity to sign Matt along with a couple of his team mates.
* Before signing on at the Anchor, Matt played for his school team at Our Lady and St. Johns RC High in Blackburn , although he harboured no thoughts of being a professional footballer at that time.
“I didn’t really think about it at school, only when I went to Great Harwood.”
The only other club that he turned out for was Blackburn United Youth.
* He wasn’t thrust into first team action right away as the going could get pretty tough for a 16 year-old. Defenders at NWCFL level rarely take prisoners so Matt’s appearances in the 2002/03 season were quite rare. His first goal was against his former club Darwen on October 18 th in the Division Two Trophy. He helped to run the defence ragged during an impressive 4-2 victory. That goal is the one that Matt rates as his favourite during his two years with the Robins.
* He had to wait until the final month of the season for his next goal but it started an avalanche of goals for the enigmatic striker. He hit two in a 5-2 home win against Norton United and the following 12 days saw him hit 5 more in three home games. Two against Holker Old Boys as we ran out 3-0 winners, a single strike against Blackpool Mechanics as the Seasiders were thrashed 3-1 and another brace as Ashton Town were hammered 4-1.
* The beginning of the 2003/04 season had management and supporters rubbing their hands in anticipation.
* August 30 th looked to be a date where Matt could make a name for himself as higher opposition in the shape of North Ferriby United arrived at the Showground for an FA Cup tie. Sadly for Matt the referee had other ideas and was determined to show the youngster just who was the star of the show. Our ace forward was booked just after kick-off for knocking the ball into the net after being flagged offside but his second booking and subsequent dismissal was nothing short of a disgrace. As Matt raced into the United half he was crudely stopped in his tracks by a late tackle. The clown in black then pulled out a yellow card apparently to book the offender but stunned not only the Harwood faithful, but also the North Ferriby players, when he showed it to Matt, for ‘diving’, and pointed towards the dressing rooms. Even visiting skipper Rob Dewhurst, the ex-Rovers player pleaded for common sense, but to no avail.
* The following game Matt was missing as he had trials with the Rovers and how it showed as the Robins went down 7-0 to Cammell Laird in the FA Vase. Unfortunately for the Robins, Matt missed several games whilst away on trial but more than made up for it when he appeared in the Red of Harwood.
* September 2003 saw the scouts flocking to the Showground and they included representatives from Burnley and Plymouth Argyle amongst others. They weren’t disappointed as Matt’s performances flew right off the scale. He was now unstoppable as Daisy hill found to their cost when he hit a hat-trick in a 6-0 home win. The following week he hit two more against Darwen as we scraped home 4-3. Five days later a trip to Castleton Gabriels saw the home side torn apart as Matt hammered in all four goals. Two days on and another strike helped us to a point at home to Cheadle Town although that game saw his strike partner John Eastham badly injured and out for the rest of the season. That left the club with a problem as manager John Hughes stated the obvious by telling the world that Matt Derbyshire wouldn’t be here for too long
“So get down to the Showground and see him while you can!”
* Still in September, a trip to Nelson in the Division Two Trophy gave him another two-goal haul, both spectacular efforts, as the Robins forced a 3-3 draw.
* The next weekend Maine Road were dazzled as Matt struck twice in the first half to secure our passage into the next round of the League Challenge Cup. Two points were dropped at home to Ashton Town but the game was once again lit up by another Derbyshire goal. Three days later it was off to the seaside and what was arguably Matt’s greatest performance in a Harwood shirt. From the very first minute he made complete monkeys of the Blackpool defence who had performed so well in the early part of the season and were good NWCFL players. One in the first half and two more in the second had even the home supporters drooling. When our hero was taken off in the second half after John Hughes had decided to ‘declare’, the Blackpool defenders clasped their hands together and dropped to their knees in thanks.
* Not surprisingly that was his final game as the Rovers made an offer of £20,000, a club record for Harwood. It was a dream move for Matt who’d been a Rovers supporter all his life. How ironic that he already worked at Ewood coaching youngsters in the B.R.I.C.!
* Although he enjoyed his time with the Robins and thought that playing semi-professional for them was quite satisfactory, the move to Ewood took his career onto a whole new level. * He managed to score in 8 of his last 9 games and hit 18 goals in that time. He scored in just 13 games for Harwood and when he scored, Harwood never lost – ten wins and three draws. Sadly his number of appearances is unknown but his goals total was 21 league goals, 3 Division Two Trophy goals and 2 in the League Challenge Cup.
* The best player that matt played with at Harwood was John Eastham.
“He helped me more than anybody and set up most of my goals.”
* Playing for the Rovers Reserves and highly successful Youth team, Matt hit the target regularly but found his route to the first team very difficult. He had to wait until the final game of the 2004/05 season when he came from ‘nowhere’ to be named on the bench. Happily he came on towards the end of the game which was also good news for the Robins as they received a further payment thanks to a ‘sell-on’ clause in the contract.
* Plymouth Argyle who had monitored his progress since first watching him at the Showground, took him on loan but unfortunately the Pilgrims manager was soon shown the door and the new man didn’t fancy him. His appearances at Home Park were therefore strictly limited but after returning to the Rovers for a while he was shipped out to Wrexham for some first team experience and what an experience it was as he soon topped the Welshmen’s goalscoring charts.
* With the dire financial situation at the Racecourse, a permanent signing was never really on and anyway, Matt was still determined to break into the Rovers 1 st team.
* Despite continuing to score regularly for the Reserves, big money signings meant that he had to bide his time, but his attitude, dedication and undoubted skill was noted by manager Mark Hughes who showed great faith by offering Matt another contract at the end of the 2005/06 season.
The next campaign began as the last had ended with Matt starring for the second string and his performances saw him once again make the bench for Rovers Premiership game at home to Fulham. Unfortunately he only made it on for the final few minutes but was back as a substitute for the next home game against Newcastle . With the Magpies threatening to run riot after building up a 2-0 half-time lead, Matt was brought on for the whole of the second half and helped to get the Blues right back in the game.
Decmber13th 2006 was another date for the Derbyshire archives when Matt, now 20, started his first game for the team as they took on the unfortunately named Nancy in the UEFA cup. With just a few minutes gone he found himself with just the keeper to beat but a great save kept out his shot. That was as close as he got to scoring, mainly thanks to a total lack of creativity from most of his team mates, but a lively display saw him play for the whole 90 minutes and the prospect of more European games as the Rovers progressed to the next round.
* The busy Christmas period was completed with Matt making the bench in every game. As the Rovers were being torn apart by Arsenal, Matt entered after the break and his efforts helped the Blues make a storming comeback. His brave header, which came back off the bar, was finished off in style by Nonda but the defence capitulated late on to leave the visitors well beaten.
* It looked as though playing for the Rovers in front of 60,000 fans was about as good as it could get but a couple of games later it reached another peak as he came on at half time in a league game at Wigan.
‘Neill’s cross to the far post found Pederson who cushioned a header into Derbyshire’s path, and he gratefully accepted the gift by tapping into an empty net.’
Matt Derbyshire’s name was now seen regularly in the National press as well as locally and features on him were seen almost daily. His success was also good news for Great Harwood Town FC as the publicity kept the club firmly in the spotlight.
‘This can be my year’
“It’s a massive thing for me to get my first goal at this level and being a Blackburn fan as well – it’s unbelievable.”
“Hopefully, there’s going to be many more.”
* Well, he didn’t have to wait too long for his next as he was once again given a starting berth against Everton in the FA Cup. He took just over 10 minutes to get on the score sheet and gave a great performance in a 4-1 win. Matt’s last appearance in the competition was 3½ years earlier when he was sent off in the 1 st half against North Ferriby at the Showground.
* The following few games saw him included in the 16 and the goals continued to flow. As a late 2nd half substitute at Manchester City he broke clear, shrugged off a defender and calmly slotted past the keeper with the minimum of fuss to put the icing on a 3-0 victory.
Surely things couldn’t get any better?
Yes they could, and did!
Matt was rewarded with a new extension to his contract, keeping him at Ewood until 2010. * The next round of the FA Cup had Matt starting up front with Benny McCarthy and the young genius gave a man-of-the-match performance as Luton Town were brushed aside 4-0. Matt scored the first with a thunderous right foot shot from the edge of the box. Dived in where the boots were flying to set up McCarthy for the second, and gained a head injury in the process, then out jumped his marker with a trademark leap and header to make it 3-0. The BBC cameras captured everything and the pundits were drooling over his performance. The crowd chanted his name and the newspaper headlines screamed about just one player. He was even interviewed on the TV after the game and Mark Hughes admitted that he’d have a real problem when all of his forwards were fit.
“Of course we believe we can win it. I think every player’s dream to play at Wembley, but we’re just taking it one game at a time.”
Could things get any better? Yes!
Next up was a call from England under-21 boss Stuart Pearce and a debut awaiting at Pride Park-unbelievable!
* With each new week seeming to bring more good news, it was almost inevitable that something would go wrong sooner or later and it did!
Another outing for Matt against Sheffield United at Ewood was cut short when he pulled up with a torn muscle and he missed his chance for International honours. Matt was quite philosophical about the situation and hoped that his turn would come again. Incredibly, Matt was back in action within a couple of weeks and came on as a late substitute at the Emirates, forcing the Arsenal keeper into his only save of the game.
* For the next couple of months Matt hit the headlines in the local, National and even the International Press (The Navhind Times in India ).
‘Matt’s the way to do it!’
‘wonderful Wembley gets a matt finish’
‘magic matt is four-midable’
‘it’s hats off to matt!’
The Lancashire Telegraph told of the debt that Matt owed to Andy McNally who took him under his wing when he spotted the star playing for his school team at the age of 14.
“He got me my first job with the Rovers’ Football in the Community office, and he got me playing for the Darwen Youth Team, and then for Great Harwood after that.
“He’s like a father figure to me, he kept me focussed on my football. “I used to think to myself ‘Am I good enough?’ but every day he kept encouraging me and kept believing in me, and that gave me the confidence to go on and better myself.”
Writing in the Daily Mail, fellow striker, South African International Benni McCarthy had this to say about his strike partner whilst talking about the second penalty in a league game at Bolton .
“We were only winning 1-0 and if I’m on the pitch and we’ve got a penalty, nobody gets in front of me. I was showing a bit of leadership but Matty has elephant balls to pick up that ball and say: “It’s me that’s taking it”-you’ve got to respect that from a 20-year old who’s just broken into the first team.
“That’s a lad who’s going to make it. I admire everything this boy does, he’s going to be a force in the Premiership.”
* Mail reporter Matt Barlow had this to say about Matt in an article asking why the big clubs insisted on buying foreign when there was such talent in the non-league game.
“ Blackburn ’s Derbyshire slipped through the local scouting net as a school boy. He was never connected to a professional club until he emerged in a blaze of goals with Great Harwood Town in the North West Counties Division Two. “Eighteen goals in nine games had the biggest clubs in the north-west flocking to Great Harwood and Derbyshire was snapped up at the age of 17 by his hometown club Blackburn .”
* More glowing articles were written by Rovers all-time leading goalscorer Simon Garner and football legend Mark Hughes whose record both on and off the field is second to none.
“It’s been a fantastic period for him and you can see the enjoyment that he has in his football at the moment.
“ He’s got a smile on his face, he’s scoring goals, he’s a local lad, he’s playing for his local team, he’s scoring in the FA Cup, he’s scoring in the Premier League, and at his favourite end so it’s all falling into place for him.
“Yes I have been surprised by how well he has done.
“With all young players, you want them to make an impact and do well, but you’re never quite sure if they can do it.”
Praise from the likes Mark Hughes must make Matt and his family very proud.
* Back to full fitness, Matt was now a regular in the starting eleven and as he’s done all his life, he took his chance with both hands scoring regularly. His last minute goal against Manchester City confirmed the Rovers place in the FA Cup semi-final before he made his debut for England under-21’s against Spain at Wembley. Coming on as substitute he immediately set up England ’s second goal before scoring the third himself. Next stop Old Trafford against the league leaders in front of the highest-ever Premiership attendance-no problem! Matt scored the only goal of the first half before a second half defensive collapse allowed United to take the three points.
So, what next?
The winning goal in tomorrow’s FA Cup semi-final?
The winning goal in the final at Wembley?
Winner in the World Cup final?
WITH MATT DERBYSHIRE, ANYTHING’S POSSIBLE!
* The best moment in Matt’s career so far was turning out for the Rovers, “My own team.”
* The best ground that he’s played on is Ewood Park and his ambition for the rest of his football career is to play as many games as possible.
* Family include Mum Shirley, Dad Ian, brother Chris, sister Kayleigh and girlfriend Melissa.
* When asked if there was anything else interesting about him, he modestly replies “Not really!”
Here are a couple of articles featured in one of the programmes from the 2003-04 season.
One of the good things about being the programme editor is that you’re able to have a right go at people who annoy you. If anyone fancies the job next season, please let me know. Maybe you could do it just for one season to see how it goes.
Anyway, last week I had a rant about the moron form Maine Road (his solicitor has been in touch), and this week Colne F.C. are going to get it.
It was announced by our neighbours that they were going to put in ‘7 days notice’ on our young superstar Matt Derbyshire. Now we all know that Matt has the potential to go to the very top, by that I mean the Premier League not the N.W.C.F.L. 2nd Division!!! It’s only right that all of our fine youngsters want to move up the footballing ladder, but Matt to Colne? It wouldn’t even be a sideways step, Great Harwood Town are a bigger club than Colne and are likely to be for the foreseeable future, or as Chalky White suddenly re-appearing with Lord Lucan. The Colne manager must be as barmy as a box of broken biscuits if he thinks that Matt is ‘good enough’ to play for his club. I don’t know what the GHTFC management or the player himself thinks, but as a supporter, I take it as an insult to the supreme skills of our wonderboy. He’s got pace, grace, balance, leaps like a gazelle, got a first touch like a Brazilian International, brilliant with both feet, powerful header, strong in the tackle, faster than a speeding Linford Christie, finishes like Alan Shearer, dribbling ability akin to George Best and the personality of a saint. Of course apart from that he’s rubbish!
He’s the biggest thing to happen to this club for years and much credit must go to our management duo of John Hughes and Dave Sharples, because under their leadership Matt has come on leaps and bounds. Last season he would come on from the bench and change a game with his lightening speed, but this season, likes Hughesy keeps telling us, he’s getting better every game.
Make the most of this success all you Robins fans, it can’t last forever, but when Matty’s made it to the big time, we’ll still be able to reminisce about this season.
Well that’s all my ranting done for this week, but I’m sure that something else will upset me in the coming week so watch this space!
Doctor Dudley’s problem page
Do you have a problem?
Wife’s not talking to you - wife IS talking to you?
Depressed because your favourite team can’t win a game?
Write to Doctor Dudley c/o the programme editor who’ll pass on your letters and your problems will soon be over.
At last! The problems are starting to roll in. This week a worried Mother wrote in.
Dear Doctor Dudley,
A couple of weeks ago, my little lad said that he was going to play out with his mates at somewhere called Winterton (I thought that he’s said Witton Park). Anyway, he said that he wouldn’t be late but he told a fib as it was gone midnight and his bedtime is 9.00! As you can imagine, I was worried, and not only that, but his Ovaltine was spoiled and his hot water bottle was cold. Could you give me some advice on how to discipline him, would a smack on the legs help?
Mrs. Derbyshire (Matt’s Mum)
Dr. Dudley says:
Well Mrs. Derbyshire, it sounds as though your matt is going to go ‘off the rails’ if you’re not careful. It seems quite clear to me that the little chap has got in with the wrong crowd. Smacking isn’t going to help in this case. What I suggest is that you tell him that if it happens again you’ll stop him playing football altogether and you’ll take his Teddy Bear away.
Doctor Dudley’s problem page
Today sees the return of our popular ‘Agony Uncle’ Dr. Dudley.
If you’ve any problems at all, please right to him and I’m sure that he’ll be able to sort you out. You know the kind of thing, wife not speaking to you, wife IS speaking to you, wife won’t let you go to football etc. etc.
This season’s first problem comes from a worried mother from Blackburn, who, sad to say, also found it necessary to write in last year.
Dear Doctor Dudley,
You may remember me from last year when I wrote to you about my little lad playing football. I took his teddy away like you advised and he’s been coming home on time. Now I’ve another problem. My little lad Matt wasp playing football with his mates a few weeks ago when he scored a goal. Well, since that it seems like the world’s gone mad, my telephone has gone crackers, I’ve had people from other football clubs banging on my door, and young Matt has got too big for his boots, he even answered me back last week! I also had this chap Sven something or other, a foreigner, asking if matt was English! Bloomin’ cheek, of course he is! I don’t want him to go and leave home for a big football club, loads of cash, fast cars and loose women, I want him to stay where he is, have you any advice?
P.S. Please don’t give his name out as he might be embarrassed.
Dr. Dudley says:
Fear not dear lady, everything is in hand. Remember last year when we had an autograph page in the programme?
I got young, ah, Kevin, to sign my copy but unbeknown to him, I’d placed a piece of carbon paper under the page and underneath that I had a contract which said that he had to stay at Harwood until he was 48 years old. It also stipulated that if any loose women came his way, I had to look after them for him. And the cash? As his agent, I take a 95% cut of his wages.
Well, we all knew that Matt Derbyshire would be leaving us sooner or later, and now he’s got his dream move to the club he supports, Blackburn Rovers, He wasn’t here for too long but he’s made a lasting impression with his superb skills and fantastic finishing. The club hasn’t been out of the news since Matt started his goalscoring spree with a hat-trick against Daisy Hill, 9 more followed in the next four games and the scouts were soon outnumbering the fans!
The move is obviously a good one for him, the Rovers, GHTFC, and most of all, our NWCFL opponents who must be overjoyed at not having to face him again. The team though will undoubtedly be much weaker without his mercurial skills and we’ll do well to stay in contention with the league leaders.
Many of our loyal supporters had the pleasure of seeing his great goals at Castleton and Nelson but his performance at Blackpool was surely one of the finest ever given by a Great Harwood Town footballer.
The press have really gone overboard, he’s been compared to Wayne Rooney, Brett Ormerod, the European Maradona and the white Pele so at least there’s no pressure on him!! Personally I’d compare him with Alan Shearer, two good feet, superb in the air, great shot-always on target-just belt the ball upfield and there’s a fair chance that it will end up at Matt’s feet.
Good luck Matt and you can rest assured that everyone here will be ‘rooting’ for you in your new professional career.
P.S. If you do make it to the first team at Ewood, the bonuses due to the Robins will come in quite handy!!
PART TWO (Jump back to Part 1)
The beginning of the 2007/08 season saw Rovers involved in the Inter-Toto Cup which kicked off in July and Matt made his mark by scoring in the 2-0 win at Vetra.
In the opening Premier League game, the Blues visited Middlesbrough and the ex-Robin came on from the bench in the second half, taking just 30 seconds to hit the back of the net. He brilliantly controlled a difficult ball and blasted into the top corner to secure a 2-1 win.
Another England under-21 cap followed and he took just 8 minutes to score against Romania in a 1-1 draw.
His good form saw him preferred up front to European Cup winner Benny McCarthy for the league game at Sunderland and the decision was justified as the Rovers won 2-1.
The Rovers progress to the UEFA Cup saw them paired against Larrisa of Greece but a 2-0 away defeat proved decisive with a 2-1 2 nd leg victory at Ewood seeing them exit the competition. Matt was once again on target with a twice taken penalty.
He then found out that his partner was expecting twins.
The return game against Middlesbrough had a ‘deja-vu’ feel to it as he once again came on as a second half substitute to score, securing the Rovers a point after a 1-1 draw.
In a home game against Aston Villa, he saw his penalty saved by Scott Carson and the ensuing scramble he was injured and had to be substituted.
He then missed out on another England cap because of the imminent birth of his twins, Callum and Braidin, and they arrived at the end of February.
His favourite area must surely have been the North East and his next visit there, to Newcastle, saw him come off the bench to score the only goal of the game.
He ended the campaign with 33 appearances and 6 goals with his 3 Premier League strikes coming from only four shots on target.
The relatively poor number of goals he scored was undoubtedly down to the decision of manager Mark Hughes to persist in playing the star out on the right wing where he struggled make an impact.
The 2008/09 season had Paul Ince taking over from Hughes and Matt had to wait until the end of August for his chance, in an away game at West Ham United. With the Rovers losing 2-1, he came on and scored a perfectly good goal to level but the effort was wrongly ruled out, as shown on Match of the Day, and the Hammers went on to win 4-1. The result might have been different had Jason Roberts not pulled rank and insisted on taking a penalty, which he missed, with the score a 3-1.
In a home game against Fulham, the Rovers appeared to be clueless and showing few signs of making a breakthrough and with the Ewood faithful getting impatient, Matt was brought on to score the only goal of the game after a great move involving Santa Cruz and Villaneuva.
That impact persuaded Ince to promote him to the starting line-up for the Carling Cup tie against Everton at Ewood and he didn’t disappoint, helping his side to a 1-0 win.
He then retained his place for a game in his favoured North East against Newcastle United and helped his side to their annual victory. Although his failed to score in the 2-1 win, he had a one-on-one saved by Shay Given and then had a header cleared off the line.
A 3 rd successive start followed but Manchester United proved too strong for the Blues at Ewood.
He was then an unused substitute for England as they took on Wales.
More Rovers appearances followed, mainly from the bench, but Ince, like Hughes before him, insisted in putting Matt on the right wing.
Portsmouth were leading the Blues 2-0 at Fratton Park when Matt was brought on and played as a striker!! Result-he scored with his first touch!
Surely the struggling Paul Ince would realise that he had a player who could score the goals to ease the pressure on himself and also the team but no, the next game, a League Cup tie against Manchester United, saw him start, on the right wing!!
With the Rovers 4-1 down, Matt scored and then set up Benny McCarthy to make it 4-3 but it proved too little too late.
A tough home game against Liverpool was next and although he started in his favoured position, he couldn’t provide the breakthrough but was given a standing ovation for a tremendous performance by the large home crowd.
Paul Ince was sacked by the club and replaced with Sam Allardyce but for Matt that didn’t mean he’d be starting more games.
Preferring muscle to skill, Roberts to Derbyshire, Big Sam soon shipped out Matt on loan to Olympiakos of Greece and his debut for the club was a real eye-opener.
Passion is the name of the game there and as he came on from the bench in a 1-0 defeat to PAOK, he witnessed no less than 12 bookings.
An Hellenic Cup ¼ final against the same opposition followed and with Olympiakos trailing to a first half goal, he was brought on from the bench to help his side level and take the game into extra-time.
Five minutes into the second period his brave header settled the game much to the delight of the fanatical Greek supporters who filled the night air with flags and flares, enthusiasm which he could only have dreamed of.
That crazy passion was again in evidence when the sides met for a third time a couple of weeks later, this time at PAOK.
Matt was missing from the squad and after watching the game, was probably quite relieved.
The Olympiakos players were pelted with missiles throughout the 90 minutes and the assaults were replicated on the pitch as the home players scythed down the opposition in a game that resembled Aussie rules futty!
The referee was lenient though and just booked nine players and sent two off.
His next appearance was against Iraklis and he entered the fray on 81 minutes. It took him just 60 seconds to convert a cross from the wing and a further 6 minutes to score a second, cutting in from the left, beating a defender and firing into the bottom corner of the net to make it 5-0.
The next round of the Cup, the semi-final 1 st leg, aw him once again on the bench and he came on with the score at 2-2 and came closest to securing victory when he hit the bar.
It was around this time that he tried to resurrect Great Harwood Town with his good friend and ex-Harwood star Andy McNally but the unavailability of a ground or ground-share left him disappointed.
He then helped his other ex-team re-form and helped them with finances.
Matt then finally got the chance to start a game for Olympiakos at Panionios and he didn’t disappoint. His 22 nd minute shot was saved but he bravely dived in where the boots were flying to head in to make it 1-0.
The home side hit back to lead but Matt’s side scored two 2 nd half goals to clinch the win and the Greek title.
At the end of March, he came on from the bench for England under-21’s against Norway and took just two minutes to put the ball in the net but the effort was ruled out for offside.
No matter as he scored his side’s 4 th goal on 78 minutes and repeated the trick two minutes later.
That performance saw him promoted to the starting eleven but he was played a lone striker, which he isn’t, and he failed to make much impact.
Back in Greece, he equalised against Levadiako and his side went on to claim the three points.
As the season came to a close, he made another start at home to Rovers UEFA conquerors Larrisa, who once again proved their quality in winning 1-0 and ending Olympiakos’ unbeaten home record.
On to the Greek Cup Final which saw them pitted against Athens big rivals AEK. Watching once again from the dug-out, he saw his side struggle in the 1 st half which ended 2-0 in AEK’s favour.
Like a lion entering the Coliseum to make mincemeat of the Christians, he was let loose on the opposing defenders who managed to hold him back for just one minute when he scored with a header.
The onslaught continued and it was little surprise when his side equalised but AEK fought back to re-take the lead and in the aftermath all hell let loose!
Fighting broke out but surprisingly only one player was shown the red card-and he’d been substituted 30 minutes earlier before running on from the sidelines to throw a few punches!!
With 96 minutes on the clock Matt became a huge hero when he scored his 2 nd header of the game to take it into extra-time.
Olympiakos then took the lead before having a man sent off and then Matt had to be substituted after picking up an injury. Just before the end of the first period of extra-time, another of his team-mates was shown the red card and AEK took advantage by equalising before the end.
The game ended 4-4 and went to penalties in which Olympiakos triumphed 15-14.
Meanwhile the Rovers were struggling, with all of their strikers failing miserably but Sam Allardyce showed little interest in putting his faith in Matt who was attracting the attentions of Birmingham City.
Enquiries were made by Matt with a view to re-launch Great Harwood Town but the owners refusal to grant a lease put paid to that suggestion so instead he put his weight behind Whinney Hill where Andy McNally had been installed as manager.
Matt put in both cash and equipment in, with the team, containing six ex-Harwood players, looking to progress towards the ‘pyramid’.
In mid-August, he signed on loan for Birmingham City and his first appearance was at Ewood Park where he came on as a 2 nd half substitute with the score at 1-1 and was instrumental in the move that led to City’s winner.
His first start for the Blues came soon after in a home League Cup tie against Rochdale. He scored the all important 3 rd goal in a 3-2 win and the effort must have been the luckiest goal he’s ever scored.
He was set up for a simple tap-in but he mis-hit his shot which bounced off the keeper and rebounded onto Matt’s ankle before rolling over the line-just!
He then had to make do with cameo roles from the bench but he did start in the League Cup game against MK Dons in which the Blues cruised to a 3-1 win.
Despite Birmingham’s dreadful scoring record, Matt continued to be named as a substitute in between appearances for the reserves.
He scored with a great curling shot from the edge of the box against Coventry City Reserves and followed that up with another in the 6-0 rout of Walsall.
He played in the big reserve derby against Aston Villa which ended goalless before he hit a goal in each half of the friendly against Cheltenham Town.
In early December, Alex McLeish showed Matt just how far he was down the pecking list when in a game at Wolves, with the Blues 1-0 down and showing no signs of a comeback, he brought on all three substitutes and left him twiddling his thumbs-City lost the game 1-0.
A rare start then came at Blackpool and once again Matt proved his worth, helping the Blues to a rare 2-0 success.
The FA Cup campaign began with a trip to Millwall and Matt ran them ragged. A fabulous chip in the 17 th minute opened the scoring and he was fouled on the edge of the box from which the Blues scored to make it 2-0.
A great save prevented him from scoring a 3 rd but a minute from half-time a mazy run and superb finish ended the game as a contest.
That strike made it career goals in six FA Cup appearances.
Surprisingly, he was then dropped for the 1 st leg of the League Cup semi-final 1 st leg which City lost 2-1.
The big derby game against Aston Villa followed and with McLeish under pressure, he turned to Matt who started the game.
Despite missing a good chance, he performed heroically and was named man of the match-before being subbed!
He kept his place for the game at Old Trafford where it was a case of damage limitation and it wasn’t limited too much as United ran out easy 5-0 winners.
Matt did his best and set up the only City chance of the game when he presented Fahey with a 2-yard tap-in, which he missed!!
He remained on the bench for the home FA Cup tie against Coventry City which the Blues won 3-2.
More disappointment followed as he was left out of the squad for the League Cup Final against Arsenal which they defied the odds by winning 2-1 but the TV pictures showed him celebrating with his team-mates enthusiastically.
A home FA Cup against Bolton Wanderers followed that and after Blues equalised to make the score 1-1, Matt was brought on for the ‘kill’ but unfortunately Bolton hit a late winner.
The next game at Chelsea went with the form book and with Birmingham 3-0 down, Matt came on to add some life to the weak performance and that’s just what he did causing the home defence their only problems with a livewire display in which he won a penalty after just 7 minutes which Larsson converted.
The last game of the season was at Tottenham Hotspur and the Blues knew that a win would see them survive while a draw would probably be enough.
Spurs led 1-0 until Matt entered the fray and helped level the scores. The home side then took the lead late on before the ex-Robin was harshly booked for diving.
That result meant relegation with the main reason being the 37 goals scored in 38 games-with a proven goalscorer spending most of the season sat on the touchline!
At the beginning of the 2011/12 season, the club that Matt had been helping, Whinney Hill, managed by his long-time friend Andy McNally, had recruited ex-Harwood players Gordon Watson, Matt Woods, Rick Fogarty and Dennis Hill.
During the close season he was snapped up by Nottingham Forest who paid Olympiakos an undisclosed fee and handed him a three year contract but he was missing from the squad for the first three games.
Manager Steve McLaren then named him on the bench for the game at West Ham United and brought him on when the Reds were already 3-0 down. It didn’t take him long to make an impact but his goal proved to be a mere consolation as the Hammers won 4-1.
With Forest struggling in the League, he was then promoted to lead the line at Southampton where he made the first and scored the second in a 2-0 win before being booked for diving.
Not surprisingly, he kept his place for the big derby game at home to Derby County and within a minute he made a goal. Ex-team-mate and Derby keeper Frank Fielding flattened Matt resulting in a red card and a penalty kick which was put away but the ten men fought back to take the points although the Harwood legend should have done better when heading straight at the keeper and he just failed to connect to a cross in added-on time.
A home League Cup tie against Newcastle United saw him score to make it 2-2 but he had to go off injured 5 minutes from time and the Magpies won 4-3 after extra-time.
Results continued to disappoint and after a 3-1 home defeat by Birmingham City, manager Steve McLaren resigned. The result could have been so different as Matt set up Miller to put Forest one up.
Steve Cotterill was appointed boss but if Matt thought that the new man might give him a run in the side he was sadly wrong, being an unused sub. for the first game and omitted from the squad for the second.
Injury and illness until the end of the year hampered his chances of making an impression until Boxing Day when he was brought on after 70 minutes with Forest having gone six games without a goal. Matt came closest to breaking the deadlock when he hit the bar on 90 minutes.
He was given 8 minutes of the game at Ipswich and no minutes for the FA Cup game at home to Leicester which ended 0-0.
More losses came both at home and away but Matt was still missing, sometimes through injury.
In February, Forest scored their first home goal since November and that made it just 5 goals in 14 games.
He then resumed training in late March and must have been looking forward to getting a starting berth in the mis-firing attack the Reds then won an incredible game 7-3 at Leeds United.
The season couldn’t come quickly enough with Matt starting just seven games plus eight from the bench, scoring just the one goal, and another one from his one League Cup appearance.
By the start of the 2012/13 campaign, Steve Cotterill was shown the door to be replaced by Sean O’Driscoll-another new start and chance for Matt-no such luck! After appearing in several pre-season games, he was absent from all of the opening league games and soon shipped out to League One Oldham Athletic on a three-month loan.
He made his debut in the home game against leaders Notts County and with his new side one down, he burst into the box, rounded the keeper and slotted in for the equaliser. In the second half he was about to head in from a couple of yards when he was barged over resulting in a penalty. Unfortunately Simpson fired the kick over the bar and a tired Matt was substituted 13 minutes from time with the game ending 3-3.
The Latics were at the wrong end of the table and less than 3,000 turned up to see the 1-1 draw with Scunthorpe United. The visitors took the lead before Matt equalised and then looked to have hit the winner when he headed in but the ref. had spotted a foul on the keeper by another Oldham player.
With a decent run of games under his belt he was in great form which continued as Oldham entertained Coventry City. He was brought down in the penalty area for a cast-iron penalty and red card but amazingly the ref. waved play on and the Sky Blues delivered the sucker-punch with a late winner.
A trip to Crewe Alexandra followed that defeat and once again he was on the end of a poor mistake by the officials who disallowed the goal for offside. After the home stopper parried a shot, Matt followed in to put the ball in the net but as television cameras showed, he was not offside.
Not to be denied, he then hit the second in a 2-0 win.
A good draw at Sheffield United was followed up with a 2-0 win at home to Orient with Matt opening the scoring on 77 minutes before setting up Baxter for the second, making it four goals in his first six games.
In early November, he was surprisingly allowed to be cup-tied by turning out for the Latics 2-0 win at Kidderminster, leaving him in no doubt that he was surplus to O’Driscoll’s plans.
His goals then dried up but he was still playing well and set up Baxter for the opener at Hartlepool who looked to have earned a point after equalising but a stoppage time penalty gave Oldham the chance of the win. An argument and a bit of tug-ball ensued between Baxter and Matt as to who was taking the kick but the former emerged with the ball only to see his shot saved. Luckily for the Everton loanee, the ball rebounded back to him and he put it away for the winner.
A few days later he set up Grounds for the only goal of the game at Shrewsbury Town.
A home FA Cup tie against high-flying Doncaster Rovers was next and another sub-3,000 attendance saw the Yorkshire side take the lead before Oldham stormed back to win 3-1 with Matt hitting two easy tap-ins in 7 second half minutes.
Another win, 2-0 in the league at Colchester United followed with Matt cheekily claiming the second. His shot was mis-kicked towards the goal by a defender and the ball hit a team-mate on the line. That Colchester player looked for the ball to the north, south, east, west and upwards only for the ball to be at his feet all the time and as he turned round he knocked it into the net!
In late December. O’Driscoll was fired by Forest and replaced by Billy Davies who recalled Matt to the City Ground but he wasn’t even in the squad for the first three games and watched as the Reds were easily beaten 3-1at home by Oldham Athletic in the FA Cup. With Forest having no reserve side, he was left twiddling his thumbs on match days.
The first game under the new manager saw Matt in familiar territory, on the bench, and that’s where he stayed for the duration despite Forest needing a late goal for a very lucky 1-0 victory.
In late January, he signed for Blackpool until the end of the season with his debut coming in an away game at Wolves. He entered the fray on 61 minutes and was fouled for a ‘definite penalty’ which was turned down, but nevertheless, he helped the Tangerines to a surprise 2-1 win.
A home game against fellow-strugglers Barnsley followed and after he came on in the second half he looked the most likely player to clinch a win but he saw two headers go narrowly wide before the Tykes keeper tipped Matt’s brilliant 20-yard shat onto the bar, the game ending 1-1.
Mid-February saw his first start, at Ipswich Town, but the Seasiders went down 1-0 before another defeat, at Leeds United left them deep in trouble. A home game against lowly Bristol City gave ‘Pool a great chance to get points on the board but the Robins held on for a point in a goalless draw with Matt going closest, bringing out a great save from the City keeper.
A game at Vicarage Road gave him another opportunity to impress as he was promoted to the starting line-up but once again his saw his great header once again bring out the very best from an opposing keeper. With his side 1-0 down, he was replaced and Blackpool fought back to win 2-1.
His next outing gave him another start at his beloved Rovers where he saw an early shot blocked and a header just over the bar but he was eventually substituted in the 2 nd half and given a great ovation from all four sides of the ground.
Back on the bench for the next game at Crystal Palace, he came on in the 90 th minute of the 1-0 win which virtually guaranteed safety for the Tangerines while at the same time put a spoke in Palace’s promotion ambitions.
He was then an unused sub. at Burnley despite a 1-0 defeat and he came on after 71 minutes at Brighton & Hove Albion where the home side won 6-1.
Recalled to Forest before the start of the 2013/14 season, Matt enjoyed his best pre-season for many years, scoring four goals in four games, against Chesterfield, Walsall, Royal Antwerp and Motherwell.
Forest legend Gary Birtles heaped praise on him and insisted that he could still be a big star at Forest.
He then started the League game against Huddersfield Town and set up the first two chances for Cox and Guediova. Forest won 1-0 and Matt had to make way 10 minutes from the end.
On the bench once again for the League Cup tie at home to Hartlepool, injury saw him come on after just 26 minutes and he helped his side to a comfortable win, scoring a great 3 rd goal. The evergreen Reid chipped the ball over the entire defence and Matt was on it in a flash to loop his header over the keeper.
Another trip to Ewood Park followed and he caused havoc when coming on after an hour, seeing two efforts blocked at the last moment. Towards the end of the game he was brought down on the edge of the box but Reid fired the resultant free-kick narrowly over. A last minute Henderson goal sealed the points for the Reds.
After more substitute appearances, he started the League Cup game against Millwall, giving them the lead on 58 minutes before being replaced 8 minutes later. Forest eventually went through after extra-time.
Two more games saw him warming the bench throughout before the Reds were once again failing miserably up front at Middlebrough, losing 2-0. Matt came on, soon headed in from a Reid cross to halve the deficit before Forest secured a point late on.
2-1 down at Forest and once again he was called upon to make an impact. He was fouled in the box but not for the first time, a straight forward decision was waved away and he then set up Patterson for a 6-yard tap-in but amazingly the striker missed the target.
The League Cup has been where Matt has enjoyed the most success in the previous couple of years and he was delighted to have been selected for the starting line-up at Burnley to take on the old enemy.
True to form he put Forest ahead with a tap-in and proceeded to give the Clarets’ fans plenty of ‘verbals’ but it was they who had the last laugh because after they’d equalised, Matt missed a one-on-one with the keeper which proved costly, Burnley going on to win 2-1.
Back on the bench for the big East Midlands derby at Derby, thankfully, which meant that he wasn’t part of the side that was thrashed. He then started against Charlton but was subbed before the end.
Another half dozen games saw him back on the bench before he came on late in the home game with Leeds United. The visitors had just scored a late equaliser and looked to have secured a point but within minutes, he picked up the ball at an angle outside the box and unleashed a screamer into the top corner to seal the three points. The media praised Matt to the high heavens and the strike would eventually be Forest’s goal of the season, voted for by the fans.
They hadn’t seen a goal like that for years but Great Harwood Town supporters saw plenty of them during his time with us.
Into 2014, he came on at Reading after 68 minutes with his side leading 1-0 but their total domination wasn’t reflected in the scoreline so Matt was brought on to finish the Royals off. Unfortunately he carried on where his team-mates had left off and hit two efforts wide, both from just a few yards out and both easy chances. Forest went into the 95 th minute leading 2-1 but a last gasp equaliser made the Reds pay dearly for their ineptitude in front of goal.
Forest then hit top form with big wins in the League and FA Cup, the latter a 5-0 thrashing of West Ham United at the City Ground. Matt came on at 4-0 with just 7 minutes to play but it took him only four minutes to receive a yellow card after a needless tussle with the Hammers’ keeper.
A home game against the Rovers followed that and another easy win was registered. Matt came on after 73 minutes with the Reds 3-1 up and they eventually went on to win 4-1.
More bit parts for him in the next few games where Forest’s form deteriorated rapidly, a run of results which cost Billy Davies his job after fall outs with the owners, fans and media. After each defeat he would conveniently be unavailable for interviews.
The caretaker manager, Gary Brazil, looked to have more faith in Matt and he was given a couple of starts including a game at QPR where he headed in to make the score 2-2. Rangers soon restored their lead before another great header almost brought Forest level but the home side then scored two very late goals giving a very even contest an unreflective score of 5-2.
Another start at home to Birmingham City saw him sink his old club with the only goal of the game on just 99 seconds and he followed that up with a 91 second strike against Leeds United as Forest won 2-0. That goal was his 6 th in just 6 starts.
Brazil took time out to praise the striker’s efforts and rewarded him with more starts and if the Reds improved performances gave the caretaker a chance of the job permanently, then Matt’s future would no doubt be at the City Ground.
Gary Brazil was then overlooked for the full-time manager’s post and Neil Warnock turned it down before Stuart Pearce was given the reigns although he refused to begin the job until after the season had ended.
The final game of the season saw the Reds host Brighton & Hove Albion who needed a win to secure a play-off spot. Matt had the chance to score in the first half but a weak header was easily saved-or so it seemed-the ball trickling over the line for 1-0. The second half saw the visitors go all-out in attack and they equalised before, well into added time, a Seagulls effort somehow squirmed under Matt’s foot on the goal line and crept over for the all-important winner.
Sadly, that mis-kick would be his last involvement at the club as he was surprisingly not offered another contract, and that despite being Forest’s second highest of the season.
He also won the goal of the season for his effort against Leeds, voted for by a huge 41% of supporters.
Soon afterwards, Steve Evans, the most successful manager at any level of football over the last 10-15 years, came calling and signed Matt up on a two-year deal at Rotherham United. After two successive promotions, consolidation will be the name of the game at the New York Stadium so the pressure shouldn’t be too great on Matt and his team-mates.
Great Harwood ‘Legend’
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